Sidelines with John Clay

Three take-aways as Kentucky fights through flu to win at LSU

John Calipari liked way UK overcame flu at LSU

Kentucky Coach John Calipari talks about his team’s 74-71 win at LSU.
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Kentucky Coach John Calipari talks about his team’s 74-71 win at LSU.

Three take-aways from Kentucky’s 74-71 win at LSU on Wednesday night:

1. Flu fighters win one on the Bayou

John Calipari’s post-game press conference began with a medical report. Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones were all under the weather with the flu reported the Kentucky coach, who sported a tobaggan to protect his own health in the Louisiana cold. (It was cold here, by th way.)

Richards, the freshman center, played 10 minutes, scored two points and grabbed one rebound. Jones, the sophomore forward, played 12 minutes, scored two points and grabbed five rebounds. Diallo, the redshirt freshman guard, played 22 minutes, scored seven points and committed four turnovers.

Kentucky won anyway. It won with its rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 18 points, with freshman forward P.J. Washington matching that with 18 of his own and with freshman forward Kevin Knox breaking out of his slump with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Oh yeah, I forgot, according to Calipari, we’re not calling them freshmen anymore.

Still, this was their first true road game of the season and for most their college careers. The Cats won by making clutch plays down the stretch.

Down 65-64 with 3:29 left, Washington produced an old-fashioned three-point play. With the score tied at 67, Washington again scored while being fouled. This time he missed the free throw, but a hustling Wenyen Gabriel grabbed the rebound, which led to a Gilgeous-Alexander bucket and a 71-67 lead with 1:16 remaining.

With 39 seconds left, Gabriel made one of two free throws. Then with 16 seconds remaining, Alexander went a perfect two-of-two from the foul line to stretch the lead to 74-71 and force LSU to shoot a three-pointer for the tie. Brandon Sampson’s quick shot out of the right corner bounced off the rim and the Cats flew home with the victory.

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s major roll continues

The freshman guard scored 24 points last Friday as UK steamrolled Louisville. He scored 21 points Sunday as the Cats held off Georgia. He scored 18 points and dished four assists in 32 minutes on Wednesday.

He did so with a cold, he said, though the Canadian insisted that was no big deal. And SGA sure didn’t play like he was ill, scoring 13 points in the second half as Kentucky dug a little deeper and overcame a 36-31 halftime deficit.

What makes him so good?

“One thing is he’s a righty who likes to go left,” said LSU coach Will Wade afterward. “So he’s got a little fake spin move that’s very difficult to guard. You bite on it most of the time. They do a great job of giving him space and keeping most of his ball screens in that middle channel which gives him room to work.

“He’s a phenomenal player. I’ve only watched the last, I watched probably seven or eight Kentucky games preparing for this one, but certainly in the Georiga game, he’s just been playing tremendously the last three or four games. You could probably argue he’s been the best player. And he really hurt us in the second half.”

There’s no argument. Gilgeous-Alexander has indeed been Kentucky’s best player over the last three games, all three wins since that loss to UCLA in New Orleans. Though he comes off the bench, he’s become the heart and soul of this young Kentucky team.

LSU Coach Will Wade talks about Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 18 points in UK’s win.

3. The Cats are off to a 2-0 SEC start

That’s saying something in what is an obviously improved basketball league. Look around. Tennessee, Texas A&M and South Carolina are all three off to 0-2 starts. And Tennessee and Texas A&M were both ranked heading into this week. South Carolina was a Final Four team a year ago.

Alabama whipped Texas A&M on Saturday, then lost to Vanderbilt on Tuesday. Arkansas roared back to knock off Tennessee in overtime on Saturday, then lost to Mississippi State on Tuesday. Georgia bounced back from its five-point loss at UK on Sunday to handle Ole Miss by 11 on Wednesday.

Plus, history told us Kentucky hasn’t fared well in its first true road game in the Calipari era. The Cats were previously 2-6 in those circumstances.

LSU is probably not one of the better teams in the league -- Wade is just getting his program started -- but the Pete Maravich Assembly Center was nearly full and definitely loud. The Tigers tiny freshman sensation Tremont Waters scored 18 points and at 5-foot-11 grabbed 11 rebounds. Center Duop Reath scored 24 points and snatched 11 rebounds. And Kentucky won anyway.

“I liked our will to win,” said Calipari, who coached hard all night, especially in the first half. “There aren’t going to be any blowouts. The league is too good.”

Right now, Kentucky and Florida are the only two teams 2-0. That’s saying something.

LSU Coach Will Wade said that despite a 36-31 lead at halftime LSU lost to Kentucky by not having a larger working margin.

Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander talks about how UK overcame a five-point halftime deficit to beat LSU.

SEC basketball standings

Team

W

L

W

L

Kentucky

2

0

12

2

Florida

2

0

10

4

Auburn

1

0

13

1

Miss State

1

0

13

1

Missouri

1

0

11

3

Arkansas

1

1

11

3

Georgia

1

1

10

3

Alabama

1

1

9

5

Ole Miss

1

1

8

6

Vanderbilt

1

1

6

8

LSU

0

1

9

4

Texas A&M

0

2

11

3

Tennessee

0

2

9

4

South Carolina

0

2

9

5

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